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If you’re like a lot of people, you don’t look forward to having your eyes dilated when you visit the ophthalmologist. It can be very inconvenient, or even impossible to perform many of your normal daily tasks and activities after your eyes have been dilated. Driving, focusing on your computer, or even just going outside can be difficult. In addition to increased light sensitivity, you may experience difficulty with shifting or maintaining focus until your eyes return to normal.

As inconvenient as it may be, this procedure is incredibly important for detecting a number of eye diseases and disorders before you ever notice any symptoms. Whether you actually need to have your eyes dilated during an exam depends on what your ophthalmologist is looking for, and on the reason for your visit.

HOW DOES YOUR DOCTOR DILATE YOUR EYES?

During your examination, your doctor will give you special eye drops that will cause your pupils to widen. This allows your eye doctor to use special lights and magnifying devices to thoroughly examine your eye, but what is your doctor looking for?

WHAT CAN DILATION SHOW?

By dilating your eyes, your ophthalmologist can detect and diagnose a range of problems, including, but not limited to:

Macular degeneration: A condition that mostly affects people over 65 in which the macula (center of the retina) starts to break down, causing vision loss. Vasculitis. A condition in which the patient’s blood vessels become inflamed when the immune system mistakenly attacks the patient’s blood vessels instead of invading bacteria and viruses.

Your doctor will also look for signs of other potentially life-threatening disorders and diseases, including diabetes, retinal detachment, tumors in the eye, high blood pressure, and glaucoma.

WHEN DO YOU NEED TO HAVE YOUR EYES DILATED?

If you haven’t had a full eye exam in the last two years, you should schedule one as soon as possible and make sure that your ophthalmologist includes dilation. When you make the appointment, inform your eye doctor about any family history or personal history with any of the above mentioned conditions. This will give your doctor a better idea of your risks for certain conditions and diseases.

If you’re going in for a routine exam or if you are visiting the ophthalmologist for some other reason, you may or may not need to have your eyes dilated. This will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Why you are having an exam. If, for example, you’ve made an appointment because you have recently developed floaters in one or both eyes, your doctor will want to dilate your eyes to check for retinal detachments.
  • Your age and overall health. As we age, we all become susceptible to more diseases and disorders than we once were. If you have diabetes or some other disorder that might put you at higher risk for some conditions, you will also be more likely to need dilation.
  • The health of your eyes. If you have personal or family history of disorders like macular degeneration or retinal detachment, your doctor will want to be on the safe side and check for any possible problems.

Dilation may be inconvenient, but it is absolutely the best screening method for a number of treatable eye problems. It’s better to take the afternoon off of work than to miss a detached retina or a case of vasculitis.

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